Nov 2, 2017

31043593610_8be10ca0d5_o.jpg(November 2, 2017)… Heading into the first weekend of training camp, one word can describe what the Rochester Knighthawks players and coaches are expecting: competition. 

This season, the Knighthawks’ 40-man training camp roster will include 17 new faces. Rochester will have all six draft picks and 11 free agents in attendance when it opens camp this weekend at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA) in Six Nations. That’s a far cry from the days when the Knighthawks invited 10 to 12 new players to camp.

“I think it’s going to be fierce,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen about the competition level. “We need to improve in a lot of areas. We need depth and to improve our game overall. It’s going to make guys work. Our focus is on not taking a shift off and that starts this weekend.”

The Knighthawks will hold fitness testing on Friday, Nov. 3 before officially starting training sessions on Saturday, Nov. 4 as they hit the turf from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. 

With the start of the National Lacrosse League season moved up nearly three weeks, the next month will be a blur for the Knighthawks players. In 36 days, the team will be together 10 times. That includes three preseason games over the final three weekends leading up to the home and season opener on Saturday, Dec. 9 against the Calgary Roughnecks.

For Rochester’s top pick, Jake Withers, time has flown by since he was chosen second overall on Sept. 18.

“I am excited. This month has gone by pretty quick. It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” said the Ohio State product. “I have been in the gym every day and getting the body ready after a long summer. I feel 100 percent. I feel strong, fast and ready to go.” 

Rochester restocked its roster at the 2017 NLL Entry Draft by selecting Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell in the first round and then choosing Adam Perroni in round two. The Knighthawks added Six Nations Arrows defensemen Trevor Stacey and Kessler Doolittle in the final two rounds. This weekend, the rookies will get their first taste of the NLL.

“I feel pretty excited. I am a little nervous because it’s my first camp,” said Stacey. “I am looking forward to getting out there and showing the team what I’ve got to offer.” 

“I am pretty fired up to get into a scrimmage and play against some real NLL players for the first time,” said Perroni.

It’s the third straight season that Rochester has built through the draft. Brad Gillies and 2017 Second Team All-Pro Graeme Hossack are the returning blue-chip players from the 2015 draft. Last year, the Knighthawks infused youth into the lineup with the addition of draft picks Kyle Jackson, Josh Currier, Dan Lomas and Luke Laszkiewicz. 

Lomas, who finished fourth on the team in points, said he was looking forward to getting back to work with the team.

“I’m excited. It’s going to be highly competitive,” he said. “I think that’s what you want out of a training camp. That’s how you make a good team.” 

The Knighthawks have a solid core of players coming back from the 2017 campaign. Aside from the aforementioned youngsters, Rochester boasts a lineup that includes former NLL MVPs Dan Dawson and Cody Jamieson, five-time NLL Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc, and team captain Sid Smith. Not to mention last year’s leading scorer Joe Resetarits, and seasoned defensemen like Scott Campbell, Ian Llord and Paul Dawson.

Paul Dawson, who is no stranger to training camps, welcomed the challenge.

“There are a lot of new faces; there are a lot of bodies that are going to be at training camp,” said Dawson, who is entering his 12th season. “We are looking to change the makeup of the team. We are looking to go younger. I am looking forward to who steps up. I think everyone is in a battle for their position and it will be a good, friendly competition.”

With all the talk about a youth movement, there is one player who could prove to be one of the top free agent signings of the offseason. That player is former NLL Defensive Player of the Year Billy Dee Smith. For the first time in his 16-year career, the St. Catharines, Ontario native will change addresses as he goes from the rival Buffalo Bandits to the Knighthawks. 

“I haven’t been this excited in a while,” he said. “It’s a chance to prove myself all over again.”

That mission starts this weekend for Smith and his teammates.

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